THE LAST THING I REMEMBER is Neil Armstrong opening the LEM’s front hatch to begin his televised and epic descent.
When I was seven years old, and crazy for space, I had memorized the names of all the astronauts from Apollo 7 through 11 and built models of the lunar module in Revell’s plastic and Gulf Oil’s cardboard kits. I also had quite the collection of Major Matt Mason action figures and (IIRC) one of the child-sized plastic space helmets that were all the rage among budding astro-nerds.
This obsession began, near as I recall, with seeing 2001: A space odyssey the year before, after which I vowed to become an astronaut or die on the launchpad. I couldn’t then, and can’t now, explain why the space program took such a firm grasp on my young mind: aesthetics? Novelty? Simple escapism? Perhaps all of these, perhaps none. All I know was that I wanted to go.
As we celebrate in two days the 50th anniversary of that historic footprint, we humans can claim a couple of space stations (ISS and Mir, and once-upon-a-time Skylab) and telescopes (Hubble, Kepler, Spitzer, Gaia); countless lunar, solar, asteroid, comet, planetary and space probes, including two of the latter which have now left the solar system; dozens of (if now defunct) shuttle flights; various commercial endeavors; and blackboard proposals for orbital hotels, lunar bases, and manned Mars missions.
But back to the moonwalk. The next thing I remember is my mom gently shaking me awake. “Honey, you missed it,” she said. I don’t have many regrets, but sleeping through that “one giant leap” is at the top of that short list.
Space travel has almost become passe — “all the regularity of the crosstown bus,” as Harlan Ellison once wrote. But for anyone who remembers astronautics pre-empting regular broadcasts on all three TV networks, it will always be one of humanity’s greatest continuing adventures. (Even if some of us sleep through parts of it.)